Frances Ha” a Hopeless Bore.

Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha

Noah Baum­bach’s Frances Ha

Poor Brook­lyn. What­ev­er did it do to mer­it the sort of musi­cians and film mak­ers that have late­ly come to sul­ly its streets with such stud­ied insou­ciance? And so lit­tle to show for it.

Noah Baum­bach is part of that group of ter­ri­bly clever indie film mak­ers that includes Wes Ander­son, Spike Jones and a cou­ple of the Cop­po­las. After his fourth film though, the gen­uine­ly charm­ing The Squid and the Whale (’04) it looked as if a seri­ous film mak­er had arrived on the scene.

But the three films he fol­lowed that up with, Mar­got at the Wed­ding (’07), Green­berg (’10) and now Frances Ha all have that irri­tat­ing air of being far too clever by half.

Jesse Eisenberg and Anna Paquin in "The Squid and the Whale".

Jesse Eisen­berg and Anna Paquin in “The Squid and the Whale”.

You can see what’s he done. He’s tak­en three clas­sic, indie film sce­nar­ios, but instead of then pro­duc­ing the sort of whim­si­cal, off­beat but qui­et­ly charm­ing sto­ry that the set up sug­gests, he’s tak­en the pro­tag­o­nists and work­shopped them to death. Every time you expect them to go one way he forces them in the exact oppo­site direc­tion. It’s a sort of test, to see how far the audi­ence will go along with it, and how much they’ll put up with.

So Frances Ha is the sto­ry of a late 20 some­thing who is forced to make the jour­ney from ado­les­cence into adult­hood. But instead of in any way mov­ing on, roman­ti­cal­ly, job-wise or on any lev­el, by the end of the film she’s in exact­ly the same place. And instead of any scenes that might be deemed either charm­ing or humor­ous, they’re all just qui­et­ly embar­rass­ing. Geddit?

If he wants to alien­ate the audi­ence, as Todd Solondz does, bril­liant­ly, then he should do so prop­er­ly. But he clear­ly has a gift for mak­ing roman­tic come­dies that man­age to be gen­uine­ly engag­ing. And that deal seri­ous­ly with the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of adult life in a sophis­ti­cat­ed and nuanced way.

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in "Annie Hall".

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in “Annie Hall”.

Baum­bach needs to go back and have anoth­er look at Annie Hall and Man­hat­tan. And espe­cial­ly at the way in which the for­mer was re-shot and edit­ed when Woody Allen saw how much more inter­est­ed the audi­ence were in the rela­tion­ship between Allen and Diane Keaton.

Because if you can make films on that kind of lev­el – and he seems to be able to – then that is not a gift to be squan­dered light­ly. When you sac­ri­fice warmth for spe­cious clev­er­ness like this, all you end up doing is annoy­ing the audi­ence. And that’s not fun­ny or clever.

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